kgravelle@ricentral.com

COVENTRY — With a list of goals that includes diverting waste from the landfill and helping local families furnish their homes, Coventry last week cut the ribbon to its furniture bank, the first of its kind in Rhode Island. 

“It’s something we’ve always thought about doing,” Melissa Soares, special duties clerk at the Coventry Department of Public Works, said last Friday, just ahead of a ceremony celebrating the opening of the furniture bank at the town’s transfer station. 

Set up in a repurposed shipping container, the furniture bank was established in part to help the town divert large items from its solid waste stream, ultimately saving taxpayers money, Director of Public Works Kevin McGee said Friday. 

“The town of Coventry is the first community in the state to establish this service,” McGee said. “As we always say, Coventry leads, we don’t follow.”

The idea for the service was born in part of a desire to cut back on the number of furniture items being disposed of in town. Jackie Anthony, Coventry’s recycling coordinator, said the Department of Public Works hears frequently from residents with furniture they want to get rid of but don’t necessarily want to trash. 

“Our most common call everyday is, ‘what do I do with this? How do I get rid of it? It’s so nice, I don’t want to throw it out, but I can’t find anybody that wants it,’” Anthony said.

The furniture bank was brought to fruition thanks to a $5,000 matching grant from Rhode Island Resource Recovery, which was used to refurbish the shipping container and have signs made.

“[Resource Recovery] is our greatest community partner,” Soares said. “We couldn’t do this without them.”

Kristin Littlefield, municipal recycling coordinator at Rhode Island Resource Recovery, said Friday she’s looking forward to the positive impact the furniture bank will have, as it diverts bulky items from the Central Landfill. 

As of Friday, just a few pieces had been dropped off for donation. Dressers, bed frames and desks sat against the interior wall of the shipping container, each piece available for free to Coventry residents.  

Anthony and Soares said they’re sure the bank will fill quickly. 

“We’re hoping we can expand it,” Anthony said, noting that currently the bank is divided into just kitchen, living room and bedroom sections. 

Eventually, she added, she’d like to grow the furniture bank into additional shipping containers. 

“And we want it to be available for all Coventry residents — not just for families in need, but maybe a family who’s just starting out,” Anthony said. 

The furniture bank could also be a neat stop for antiquers on the lookout for nifty pieces to add to their collections, Soares said, adding that it aligns well with her department’s goal of encouraging the “reusing” and “repurposing” of old items. 

“This right here, if you refinished it, could be beautiful,” Soares said, pointing toward a rustic wooden headboard. “They don’t make things like this anymore.”

Standing in the shipping container beside a row of gently-used tables, Coventry Town Councilor Ann Dickson praised the furniture bank for its novelty. 

“I’m always looking for ways by which we can improve our services to our community,” Dickson said. “This is a need that was identified, and now we know we can service some of the people.”

And while the program should go a long way in helping out residents of Coventry, Dickson also lauded it as a means of saving the town money. 

The town currently pays a fee of $47 per ton to dispose of solid waste. And considering how frequently furniture is thrown out, the savings should add up quickly — in April alone, several tons of furniture was disposed of daily, costing the town more than $8,200.

McGee added that having achieved a diversion rate of 36.7 percent, the town last year saved nearly $500,000.  

“It’s a win-win for the community,” Dickson said. “It’s saving money, but it’s also providing a service.”

Located at the Coventry Transfer Station at 1670 Flat River Road, the furniture bank will accept gently-used, non-cloth furniture only, with items collected either during weekly curbside bulk appointments or by visiting the transfer station. It will be open to all Coventry residents starting Monday, and will hold the same hours as the transfer station — Monday through Friday 7:30 a.m. to  12 p.m. and 12:30 to 3 p.m.

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